The setting is Baoku’s Village in Covington, but something about the draped tapestries ballooning from the ceiling, ethnic art on the walls and traces of sage in the air make it feel like somewhere else: Africa, maybe, or somewhere in India.
Owner Baoku Moses created this cultural arts and wellness space to feel exactly that way — like it’s not anywhere in particular.
“We have this huge landmass called a planet but we are actually closer to each other than we realize,” Moses says. “Because of that, I get so excited to think of the world as one tiny village.”
The bi-weekly Joyful Expression African Drumming class is one way Baoku’s Village supports its overall mission of preserving world culture — to use education and arts to promote multi-cultural awareness, unity and diversity.
All of Moses’ efforts fall under Positive Image Arts, an organization that includes his career as a solo musician, his performing band and the ever-changing group African Folklore Ensemble. Baoku’s Village is the most tangible facet of Positive Image Arts, an idea Moses has been molding since before he came to the U.S. 15 years ago.
“As a creative mind, I began to see that I have an obligation to convey messages to the people about themselves, about hope, about life, about peace and unity and justice — how we are supposed to do better with everything around us,” he says.
Moses came to the U.S. from Nigeria in 2002, initially to play at a music festival in Florida. He settled in New York briefly before securing a two-year work visa and landing a job with Bi-Okoto Cultural Center, an African performing arts company and school in Cincinnati. He has since graduated from Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial-training program Mortar, gained dual-citizenship and worked odd jobs to support his inclination toward the arts.
But he wasn’t always so inclined.
“Before I found arts, I had no hope, no ambition of what I’m going to become, no hope of becoming great in my life,” he says. He describes the younger version of himself as “a mute,” very shy and introverted. Nowadays, though, he refers to himself as a “global citizen,” a “cultural ambassador.”
In 2015, the Covington Center for Great Neighborhoods awarded Moses a $5,000 Creative Community Grant. Moses contributed a series of classes and performances called “Ajoyo” — meaning celebration in Yoruba, Moses’ native language and tribe — to the Cov200 bicentennial festivities.
“It’s a unique opportunity to bring in people like him who have a talent, have a skill, have something that they want to share with the community either as a performance or as more of a workshop,” says Shannon Ratterman, community development program director at Great Neighborhoods.
Baoku’s Village also acts as a retail space for local artists. So the activities happen among handmade products such as jewelry, purses, natural soaps and clothing.
Brenda Zechmeister, business manager and yoga instructor at Baoku’s Village, selects the word “openness” to represent the studio and what it contributes to the neighborhood. “We are opening up ourselves and also opening up the space to give others the opportunity to be a part of this community, as far as teaching and leading but also participating,” she says.
Since finding and renting the building at 1008 Lee St. last year, Moses has renovated the space, recruited more than 10 local artists, secured six different classes and hosted a successful grand opening celebration in November. The short-term plan, Moses says, is to offer eight classes per day. But the long-term goal is much more ambitious: “National and global bases for Baoku’s Village,” he says.
For now, classes run Monday through Thursday, and regular business hours are 2-9 p.m. “This is as much your place as it is mine,” Moses says. He repeatedly emphasizes that all are welcome.
BAOKU’S VILLAGE is located at 1008 Lee St., Covington, Ky. More info: baokusvillage.com.